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Letter from the Secretary
SD Department of Education Jan. 2017  
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Enhancing RtI to Close the Gap

The Dyslexia Stakeholders Group has proposed a state plan to support struggling readers, including those with dyslexia. The following article was submitted by Fred Assam Elementary (Brandon Valley School District) Principal Susan Foster and several of the school’s teachers. In it, they summarize the school’s Walk to Read program and how it is helping students improve reading skills.

Students reading books in classroom at Fred Assam Elementary

This article is about an “Enhanced” Response to Intervention (RtI) process we use at Fred Assam Elementary School that allows for early identification of all students who need extra help with literacy, for any reason. We will describe how we provide structured, systematic intensive instruction for students so that we are able to address their specific needs.

In the Brandon Valley School District, we do not specifically identify kids with dyslexia as part of the RtI process. While we don’t screen for dyslexia, we talk about it, and we know that many of our students are dyslexic. Our staff would likely say it is helpful to know that a student is dyslexic, if that information is available. Many of our staff are on the lookout for the warning signs of dyslexia as they work with students.

Student reading and listening to story on tablet

RtI was working for us…so why change?
We changed our reading process during the same year we were identified as a pilot school for Teacher Effectiveness. Teachers were responsible for writing student learning objectives, so we tied these changes together.

We noticed our students showed good growth, but were not closing the gap with their peers. Fred Assam’s student population is about 24 percent economically disadvantaged. We also have significant numbers of students with disabilities and English learners.

An evolving process
This is our third year using what we call our Walk to Read process. We started two years ago with 1st grade students, added 2nd grade last year and 3rd grade this year. We continue to tweak this process to fit our school’s unique needs.

We have four sections each of 1st, 2nd and 3rd grades. At each grade level, each classroom teacher is assigned to one of four classrooms for Walk to Read. We categorize the classrooms as intensive, strategic, benchmark and above benchmark. All students in a grade level receive their reading instruction within one of these classrooms.

Students and teacher sitting around a table

How groups are determined
Group placement is determined by universal screening (DIBELS Next) and other data sources such as the Qualitative Reading Inventory, CORE Phonics screener, STAR Early Literacy and STAR reading assessments. At the end of each school year, teachers put together tentative groupings of students for the next year. Once new students have been added and fall screening is completed, teachers meet to reconfigure groups. Grade level and other teachers meet each quarter to discuss student progress. At that time, changes to groups are made with evidence to support student movement.

The intensive room teacher will typically start the year with 14-16 students. Screening indicates the students in this room have the greatest needs and would benefit most from direct, explicit instruction at their instructional level.

The classroom teacher provides 30 minutes of whole-group instruction. Then, for the next hour, “push-in” services occur. The classroom teacher is joined by the special education teacher, reading specialist and English learners teacher.

The students are divided into four small groups (three or four students per group). Groups rotate every 15 minutes to a different teacher in the room. Each teacher uses direct, explicit instruction through My Sidewalks On by Reading Street, SRA Reading Mastery Signature edition, SRA Reading Mastery Lesson Connections and Lindamood-Bell LiPS VOWEL Circle. Student progress is monitored weekly.

In the strategic room, the year typically begins with 16-18 students who receive whole-group instruction for 30 minutes from the classroom teacher. For the next hour, students are put into small groups and “push-in” services begin with the Reading Street curriculum and the S.P.I.R.E. program*. Staff in this classroom includes the teacher, Title I teacher and an educational assistant. Instruction is direct and explicit, and student progress is monitored weekly.

*From the EPS Literacy and Intervention website: S.P.I.R.E.® is a research-proven reading intervention program for your lowest performing students. It is designed to build reading success through an intensive, structured and spiraling curriculum that incorporates phonological awareness, phonics, spelling, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension in a systematic 10-step lesson plan.

The approximately 18-22 students in the benchmark room are “on target” with their grade-level skills. The teacher provides 30 minutes of whole-group instruction followed by an hour of small-group instruction using the Daily 5 model.

This teacher has an educational assistant, and the two of them meet with each group for skills review and activities. The goal in this classroom is to help students become more independent with skills and work habits.

teacher and students sitting on rug while reading books

Above benchmark
In the above benchmark room, the teacher provides 30 minutes of whole-group instruction followed by an hour of small-group instruction using the Daily 5 model (like the benchmark room). Above benchmark students are more independent readers and participate in literacy groups, reader’s theater and other reading activities to enhance their reading skills. This is usually the largest group, with 22-28 students in the room.

Before Walk to Read, our end-of-year results would show 12-19 students still in the intensive and strategic groups. Since implementing Walk to Read, our numbers have decreased dramatically to only single digits between the two groups. We know from our data that Walk to Read makes a difference. We have numerous success stories and parent testimonials, like this one, to support our evidence:

    From a Fred Assam Elementary parent:
    “At one point, our son was not where he needed to be in his reading. Because of you, your staff, and the early detection, you changed the future for our little boy. I remember when my husband and I thought we were going into a meeting for our son’s reading, turned out we were two people of a thirteen people meeting. You took his reading, his potential, and his future serious. More serious than we even realized until that day. Since he got the extra help, the encouragement, and stayed with it, he has turned into a reader.”

Our webinar and handouts on Enhancing RtI to Close the Gap is available on the International Dyslexia Association’s website.

We are very proud of what’s happening at Fred Assam Elementary, and we love to share. Please feel free to contact any of us:


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